With the restaurant industry being so competitive, what strategies have you implemented to differentiate your units?
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With the restaurant industry being so competitive, what strategies have you implemented to differentiate your units?

With the restaurant industry being so competitive, what strategies have you implemented to differentiate your units?

“What’s your noise?” That’s the question keynote speaker Ken Schmidt put to attendees in 2005 at Franchise Update’s third Multi-Unit Franchising Conference. Schmidt was Harley-Davidson’s communications director during its successful turnaround after losing market share to the competition.

If you’ve ever experienced the rumble from a horde of Harleys, you get it: Sight unseen, you instantly knew who made those bikes, complete with mental images of its customers, the bikers.

So what’s your noise? Who are your customers? How do you make your restaurants stand out in a marketplace that FRANdata CEO Darrell Johnson described as competing for pieces of a shrinking pie? With consumer spending tightening up in this presidential election year, distinguishing yourself—and your brand—is more important than ever. Here are how these multi-unit restaurant franchisees are doing it.

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JOHN METZ

Company: RREMC Restaurants, CEO & Founder

Units: 62 Denny’s, 5 Hurricane Grill & Wings, 2 Wahoo’s Fish Taco

Years in franchising: 22

John Metz is Past Chair of the Multi-Unit Franchising Conference and former franchisor of Hurricane Grill & Wings, which he sold to FAT Brands in 2018.

I’ve just returned from a conference with all 60 of our Denny’s GMs. As I said to them, “Our eggs and bacon are no different than anyone else’s, so how do we make ourselves stand out from the competition?” There are 3 ways:

1) You have to create raving fans; satisfied customers are not good enough. (See Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles.)

2) You have to become involved in your community. You can’t just be serving bacon and eggs. You have to give back to the community, whether in time or donations to charities, sports teams, and other local organizations.

3) Your customer service hospitality in your stores has to be the best. One of the ways we achieve this is that every one of our GMs has a financial incentive based on how the store performs.

Our goal is to be the best family restaurant operator in the communities that we serve.

DAVID BLACKBURN

Company: CEO, Southern Rock Restaurants

Brands: McAlister’s Deli, 155 in 13 states

Years in franchising: 12

David Blackburn was named the 2022 Single-Brand Leadership MVP (Most Valuable Performer) for achieving brand leadership with one brand. He is McAlister’s largest franchisee, was GoTo’s (formerly Focus Brands’) 2023 Developer of the Year, and has signed development deals for 69 more McAlister’s.

Certainly, it is important to keep your brand looking fresh. That can be as simple as being super clean—from the parking lot, restrooms, counters, kitchen, and especially any guest touch points. Would your newest team member grade it an “A”? More expensive investments for the brand include good maintenance as well as remodels to stay current, even if most of the expense is defensive and doesn’t show as a catalyst for new sales right away.

ROB BRANCA

Company: President, Branded Management Group and Branded Realty Group

Brands: Dunkin (200+), RimTyme, Interstate Battery

Years in franchising: 20

Branca is the elected leader in the Dunkin Brand Advisory Council, Chair of Northeast US Region, Member of the IFA Board of Directors, Chair of Inspire Brands’ Government Affairs Committee, IFA Franchisee of the Year, and Past Chair of the Multi-Unit Franchising Conference.

Dunkin has invested in culinary innovation in such a way as to expand our offerings into what consumers want. We have developed unique flavor profiles that truly differentiate us from the competition. Our brand focus on value is also what makes us stand out in these inflationary times.

EVAN FU

Brand: 2 Charleys Cheesesteaks & Wings

Years in franchising: 1

In addition to being a franchisee, Evan Fu is Franchise Development Manager for Charley’s Philly Cheesesteaks.

As the owner of two Charleys Cheesesteaks restaurants, we have implemented several key strategies to differentiate our stores from competitors in the highly competitive fast-casual dining industry.

First and foremost, we have specialized in crafting the perfect cheesesteak. Our commitment to excellence has resulted in a high-quality, delicious product that surpasses the generic cheesesteak offerings found at other establishments. We take pride in our recipe and strive to provide a memorable dining experience for our customers.

While our cheesesteaks remain the core focus of our menu, we have strategically expanded our offerings to include gourmet fries, wings, and salads. This diversification allows us to appeal to a wider range of customers and provides additional revenue streams without compromising our dedication to our signature dish.

One of the key factors that sets us apart from our competitors is our unwavering emphasis on fresh, high-quality ingredients. We exclusively use 100% USDA choice steak, all-white meat chicken, and hand-cut vegetables in our dishes. By refusing to settle for lower-quality or frozen ingredients, we ensure that every meal served at our restaurants is of the highest caliber.

Last, our strategic location selection has played a crucial role in our success. Both of our restaurants are situated in high-traffic areas, which not only generates a strong organic customer base, but also allows us to introduce our brand to new patrons through product sampling. This approach enables us to showcase the quality of our food and convert new customers into loyal fans of our cheesesteaks.

By focusing on these key differentiators—specialization, menu expansion, fresh ingredients, and prime locations—we have established our Charleys Cheesesteaks restaurants as leaders in the fast-casual dining sector, poised for continued growth and success.

FRANCHISEE BYTES

What is your guilty pleasure?

Chocolate chip ice cream with chocolate sauce, a load of whipped cream and even more candy sprinkles with a cherry on top.
—Bill Mathis, Multi-Unit Franchisee, 3 Subway, 1 Caribou with 4 more in construction

Junk food.
—Sedrick Turner, Owner-Operator/ President, Global Midsouth Corp., 8 Checkers (with 1 under construction), 6 Rally’s

Chicken wings. Originally, I’m from Rochester, New York, about an hour from Buffalo, so I can’t go very long without a dozen wings as hot as we can make them.
—Talisin Burton, Managing Member, Burton Foods, 14 Dunkin’, 1 Baskin-Robbins, 1 Jimmy John’s

 I love my red wine.
—Joe Piro, Franchisee/President, Supreme Greens Franchise Group, 21 Salata Salad Kitchen, 3 Face Foundrié

Eating a cheesecake.
—Pathik Patel, President, VAAP Management, 16 Dunkin’, 1 Buffalo Wild Wings GO, 1 Curry Up Now

Eating Cinnamon Bitz. They are addicting.
—Steven Leibsohn, Owner, 35 Wetzel’s Pretzels, 2 food trucks, 1 Twisted by Wetzel’s

 A Dunkin’ Glazed Donut.
—Sam Askar, COO, Askar Brands, 75 Dunkin’, 42 Church’s Chicken, 1 Papa Romano’s, 1 Blackjack Pizza. Askar Brands is also the franchisor of Papa Romano’s, Blackjack Pizza, Papa’s Pizza To Go, and Breadeaux Pizza

Online chess. I’m not really that good, but it’s a good way to give my brain a break from work.
—Milo Leakehe, Managing Partner, Imbue Capital, 3 Crumbl Cookies, 1 PayMore Stores, 1 Tropical Smoothie Cafe, 1 Rolling Suds, 1 Solve Pest Pros

Traveling and relaxing with family. We enjoy traveling internationally, especially to Pakistan and Istanbul, Turkey.
—Nadeem Saleem Bajwa, CEO, Bajco Group, 207 Papa John’s

My mother introduced me to NBC’s Dateline True Crime weekly podcast. I am hooked now and sometimes drive a few extra minutes to finish one.
—Michael T. Fay, Franchisee/CEO, MTF Companies, 25 Subway, 11 Little Medical School, 3 Overtime Athletics, 1 Flex Enrichment

Fast cars. I like the adrenaline. It’s a passion. It’s fun. Our newest Launch location, which we’re building in North Attleborough, Massachusetts, will be the first location to have the F1 simulators that professional drivers use.
—Ryan Debin, Chief Excitement Officer, Momentum Enterprises/Launch Family Entertainment, 3 Abbott’s Frozen Custard, 11 My Gym Children’s Fitness Center, 4 Launch Entertainment Park (1 in development), 1 Retro Fitness under development

I like to play computer games, but not the usual suspects. I enjoy games like American Truck Simulator, Farming Simulator, and Construction Simulator. Is there a theme developing? I even have a steering wheel, shifter, and pedals to enhance my simulating experience. Nothing like finishing a day at my real job just to make some cross-country runs in my fantasy 18-wheeler or harvesting a field of wheat in my combine.
—Karl Malchow, Owner, Renegade Pizza, 5 Toppers Pizza

Published: June 10th, 2024

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